Sunday, February 19, 2017

THE DIFFERENT PATH: MIKE KUCHARKSKI




Growing up in Detroit, there was no shortage of those of us who ended up working in comics; it was a great help that we all fostered and encouraged each other and had lots of support when we travelled to the Big Apple to try and break into the business. There was Rich Buckler, Terry Austin, Al Milgrom, Jim Starlin, Keith Pollard and Arvel Jones to name just of few of the group. One of the extremely talented artists who started out with us but took a slightly different path was Mike Kucharski. 






His work impresses me because he has certainly gone beyond the confines of comic book art and developed as an illustrator. When I first met Mike his work was as strong as polished as any of the other Detroiters mentioned above. Maybe it was his art school background (few of us actually had that experience) where one of his teachers was the amazing talent Harry Borgman (Vozwords 10/12/13 ). Besides getting a great background in the fundamentals of drawing and design,  Mike learned one of the basic lessons young artists should have. When I worked with Chaykin, most of the apprentices would tell us they wanted to be comic book artists. We would correct them and explain that they should work toward being a strong artist who has comic book clients. Never limit yourself to a single field in art because if things are slow there or dry up completely, you’re going to have some rough times. 






One of the reasons Mike chose not to pursue a life in comic was he felt he didn't draw fast enough to earn a living. To get the quality of work he wanted he need reference (photos or live models) and that process was a much slower one. With the help of a mutual friend , Byron Preiss, Mike got an interview with Gick Giordano at DC in 1970l In 1991 Byron had Mike do an adaptation of Ray Bradbury's "Besides a Dinosaur, What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up."






He has certainly hasn’t lacked for work as an artist. Over his career he has drawn storyboards for the auto industry, painted covers for VHS and DVD releases, provided illustrations for role playing games, and done a good bit of art for the Detroit museums. Asked about what difficulties he encountered in the working place, he mentioned the lack of logic at times when working for clients: when doing comps the art director would ask him to do three, but do one badly so that it would immediately be rejected by the client who them only had to flip a mental coin. I had heard the same advice often, only to watch clients go gaga over the “bad” drawing. 




Mike still lives in Detroit and is the father of twin sons. While I started out working as a teacher. Mike’s career in teaching came later in life between 2005-2015, although he did do some work in Adult classes while in college and also some substitute teaching the the 1990's. While I loved teaching, I learned that art was a whole lot more fun. And like Mike, I’ve learned that there is more to the world of storytelling and illustration than just drawing comics. 



Below a few autobiographical words from Mr. Kucharksi:


 Born in Detroit, as a kid I spent nine months out of the year drawing, and the summer months running through Michigan’s northern woods; I grew up in Hazel Park where I discovered King Arthur in a two room public library, and The Batman, The Flash and Doctor Strange on a local corner drugstore rotary comic book stand. I won a regional drawing contest when I was 11 years ago, sold my first piece of fanish artwork at the 1969 Detroit Triple Fan Fair, and discovered I didn’t draw fast enough to make a living drawing comic books when I was 18. I began illustrating table top roleplaying game books and sf/fantasy magazines a decade later; a few years after that went into advertising as both a graphic designer and as an illustrator, where I worked on everything from movie posters and video box covers to TV commercial storyboards, and campaigns for birdfeed, FTD, Motorola and Volkswagon . However, I got tired of creating artwork to help sell stuff to people that they didn’t really need, and so by an odd twist of fate, I ended up in the museum industry first working as a Graphic designer and later as an Exhibit Designer. This freed me up to pursue other artistic endeavors: wildlife painting (several have won national competitions and one has become part of the permanent collection of the Springfield Art Museum), fine art printmaking (most of which via paper lithography), and Pre-Raphaelite imagery which I continue to do.





Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Tribute to Dan Spiegle

(Dan Spiegle 1920-2017.  Working here standing upright on his drawing table.)



DAN SPIEGLE

This week the world of cartooning and illustration lost one of the great ones with the passing of Dan Spiegle.  While there are many of my idols that I refer to as masters of their craft, with Dan I would always add one just what a warm and wonderful man he was. God bless you,Dan. You’ll be missed. Below is the CAPS feature that I put together for Dan when we honored him at one of our banquets several years back. 

By Mike Vosburg

Although not a California native (his parents moved here from Washington when he was four) Dan has lived in California most of his life, marrying his wife Marie and raising their four children in the Golden State.

During WWII Dan served in the Navy for three and a half years on  a Carrier Aircraft Service Unite based in Maui. He also worked for the base newspaper, drawing covers and doing cartoons inside.

After the war he decided to pursue a career in the arts, using the GI Bill to enroll at the Chenard School. At the time Mrs. Chenard was a friend of Walt Disney who hired many of the students fresh from school. The instructors were excellent illustrators, often working in the film industry, and their disciplined approach to drawing and draftsmanship would be a hallmark of Dan Spiegle’s work.


But Mrs. Chenard Frowned on comics strips and books. Greatly impressed by the grandeur and cinematic sweep of Howard Hawkes “Red River”, Dan began developing a western strip which would incorporate that sensibility. During life drawing class he would start on a figure, flip the page over and work on his comic page, quickly hiding it if Mrs. Chenard were to enter the room.

It was these drawings he took to his first job interview, coincidentally on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, in the fall of “49. They wanted him to draw “Bozo the Clown”, but Dan, not feeling this was his strength, politely turned them down. However, the art director was impressed enough with the western strip that he sent him around the corner to the office of Bill Boyd, aka Hopalong Cassidy.

Boyd, probably the first movie and TV personality to truly understand the potential of merchandising and was constantly looking for ways to promote “Hoppie” while increasing his audience and his income. He immediately recognized the talents of the young Dan Spiegle (he liked the way he drew horses) and shortly thereafter Dan was hired by the Times Mirror syndicate the draw the Hopalong Cassidy newspaper strip. A year later the strip moved to King Features, and Dan continued to draw the strip until the mid-fifties.

Paid a salary by King Features, Dan discovered that better money could be made drawing for comic books. When Kind Features asked him to take a pay cut when the “Hoppie” strip started to lose papers, the decision was a simple one and Dan began working for Western Publishing. Because of his background (and their popularity at the time) his assignments were often Westerns: Annie Oakley, Maverick, Rifleman, Lawman and numerous others. 



He also did the Dell Movie Classics, including such films as “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “Old Yeller.”  However, his longest running stint and one which gave him the most visibility was an adaption of the popular TV science-fiction series, “Lost in Space.”, which ran for over forty issues.

Dan’s hobbies include being an avid tennis player (he an Marie were able to attend the opening day ceremonies at Wimbleton this year ) and working on watercolors. The latter has had a major effect on his work. When drawing a comics page, he will try and keep the actual drawing to a minimum, establishing only the basic shapes and tonal patterns. Consequently, when he adds his penline, he is still “drawing” and there is a wonderful life and spontaneity to the work. Then he proceeds to work like a watercolorist as he adds black, putting in the broadest strokes first and finessing as he finishes.


His influences, not surprisingly are all  hall of fame illustrators: Fred Ludekens, Noel Sickles, Robert Fawcett and Harold Von Schmidt ( his favorite.) Their attention to detail, draftsmanship carefully composed compositions are always evident in Dan’s style. But the hallmark of the great illustrators which is so evident in Dan’s work is the absolute precision in telling a dynamic story without cheats or beating the viewer over the head with outrageous style. In Dan’s work, the story always comes first. 


In Scott Shaw’s comments elsewhere in this booklet, you can find the story of how Dan moved into the field of humor with Scooby Doo, and then on to his and then on to his personal favorite, “Crossfire.”  And it was his association with Mark Evanier which brought him to D.C. comics in the mid 70’s where he worked on Blackhawk, Sgt. Rock, Bat Lash, Weird War Stories and others. (I’m also HAPPY to say that Dan never had to work for Marvel Comics)


Until recently Dan had been working on the revamped “Terry and the Pirates.” Had he been the original choice for the strip instead of the miscast and clueless group who introduced the feature, I’ve no doubt that Terry would still be one of the most popular strips in the comics. But they don’t hire executives for their creative genius. Suffice to say that Dan brought to Terry everything that is lacking in the adventure strip today, unfortunately to a depleted audience. Both deserved better.

Dan is currently working on comic book features (101 Dalmatians) and mulling over the possibilities in animation. Like all his fans, I can’t wait to see his next project.


HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE DAN SPIEGLE (AND HIS ART)

Like many baby boomers, i grew up reading lots of comics drawn by Dan Spiegle, especially all those issues of “Space Family Robinson”; “Lost In Space” and a zillion adaptations of movies and TV series. I enjoyed ‘em all. In those days, Dan’s work was realistic but somewhat mild. He was the ideal artist to portray the “live action” elements to starkly contrast with the Paul Murry-drawn Mickey and Goofy in Gold Key’s mid-60’s (thus, pre-Howard The Duck) series “Mickey Mouse, Secret Agent.” Like I said, i always enjoyed his comics, but I couldn’t say he was one of my favorite cartoonists at the time.

Not long after that, Dan got the assignment to draw the comic book based on Hannah-Barbara’s “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” Both Jack Manning and Warren Tufts had been drawing the series, and CAPS co-founder (and my after partner-in-crime) Mark Evanier was writing it. now although my affection for Hannah-Barbara’s stable of cartoon characters is well known, I’ve never been crazy about Scooby Doo; to me, the character represents a Sargasso-like trend that Saturday a.m. cartoons languished in for about twenty years. But the team of Evanier and Spiegle soon made Scooby Doo a funny book that deserved attention, even from Scooby haters like me. Prior to this, Dan was never known for doing humor, but he rose to this assignment like never before. Dan started taking artistic chances, and an artistic new approach emerged from his familiar style. And once Dan got into it, this became his new style on other non-humorous strips as well; bigger, bolder, more graphic and dynamic, with more spontaneously juicy inking that somehow still didn’t spare on the precise draughtsmanship. not discounting his body of excellent work prior to this, but somehow, Scooby Doo (and I suspect, Mark Evanier’s encouragement and inspiration.) released a Dan Spiegle that no one (certainly not myself) had ever suspected. Dan and Mark have continued to work together on a variety of projects, including “Tarzan”, “Korak” and “Blackhawk”, culminating in what is arguably their greatest collaboration to date, (and of course one of my all-time favorite comic book series) “Crossfire”. Of course, Dan’s done tons of great stuff without Mark as well, including his recent run on the all-too briefly revived comic strip “Terry and the Pirates.”


Unlike many of Today’s “hot” comic book artists, Dan’s work is continually evolving and improving in ways that make his a talent that unfailingly inspires and commands the respect of his fellow professionals. His flair for the subtle nuances of acting and staging, bold and inventive layouts, combined with his exhaustive use of research materials to add an authentic feel to any project, and the earmarks of an artist at his creative peak. Like I said, I grew up reading comics drawn by Dan Spiegle, and he’s certainly now one of my favorite cartoonists working in comics. (It’d really be a kick to see him take another crack at the Robinson family with his post-Scooby artistic sensibilities by drawing the comic book adaptation of the upcoming film version of “Lost in Space”; (are there any editors out there reading this?) In any event, I expect to continue seeing more great work from him for a long, long time. Simply put, he’s one of the best cartoonists out there, and C.A.P.S. is lucky to have a professional of his caliber as a member.


I’ve been fortunate as well, to work with Dan on a few issues of “Laft-A-Lympics” and “Burger king Comics”. I’ve been even luckier to get to know Dan and his family over the years; his daughter Carrie expertly lettered most issues of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew@“ In fact, he seems so genuinely humble that all these accolades are probably embarrassing the hell out of him (sorry Dan!).

I welcome this opportunity to celebrate our friend and colleague Dan Spiegle and his many accomplishments!

— Scott Shaw 


Growing up in New York, i missed a lot of the comics that were produced out on the West Coast the first time around, so I came to Dan Spiegle’s work a bit latter than most. But better late than never. if too many modern American comics are the equivalent of being stuck on a long, loud, and dully repetitious roller coaster for the rest of your life, then Dan’s stuff is like a terrific conversation at a cocktail party— witty, charming, subtle, and unpretentious— but filled with a constant level of surprise to keep me interested forever. Thank God for guys like Dan Spiegle— who can still be elegant in a medium choking on its own philistinism.

—Howard Chaykin


Dan did some of the best “Sgt. Rock” stories while I was editing the book at D.C. His artistic and story-telling abilities were equal only to his dependability and professional attitude. A pleasurable experience.

—Joe Kubert


Dan Spiegle not only draws lovely pictures, but he does the hard part too. He puts the pictures together and tells the story with skill, a discipline that’s frequently ignored in the 90’s. And it’s all done with consummate, craftsmanship and understated mastery.

Still, storytelling aside, when I think of Dan, I always remember that stunning splash page from his adaptation of the film; “Mutiny on the Bounty”, looking across the deck of the Bounty as she’s being provisioned in harbor. It’s a wonderful drawing that still blows me away by a guy who can do it all!

— Walter Simonson

(Dan was one of only two folks who did one of the Tales From the Crypt covers for me....the other being my studiomate Shawn McManus.)



I remember seeing Dan Spiegle’s artwork at a very early age and being attracted to its high quality. Of course, his name certainly wasn’t in the credits back then, but he made the “Space Family Robinson” seems absolutely real and the stories were all the more convincing because he was there every single issue. much later, when I learned the artist’s identity, i was even more impressed by Dan’s work because he can flat out draw anything. Anything… “Crossfive” was a movie on paper, always moving and always “Real” because of Spiegle’s incredible ability to make it work.

—Dan Jurgens


Dan Spiegle taught my daughter, Hannah, that there are actually people who draw comic books. It doesn’t matter that i’ve written and drawn “Usagi Yojimbo” for the past thirteen years and that she has seen me doing this in my home studio almost every day of her life and had seen the original art as well as the printed books. She had never made the connection that comics were created by people.

Hannah was four when Disney released “Pocahontas”. I bought the comic book adaptation illustrated by Mr. Spiegle and read it to her and her younger brother Matthew. After the story were a couple of “how-to-draw Pocahontas” pages. Hannah looked at those pages then turned back to the story and suddenly a light bulb went off in her head and, with the enthusiasm of discover, announced “someone drew this!” I told her Dan Spiegle drew it. “No, no,” she insisted, “Someone drew this comic book!” There are people who draw comic books! What a revaluation!

So, thank you Dan, for teaching my daughter something in one minute that I had been trying to show her for four years. now if you’ll only teach her to clean her room.

— Stan Sakai



(Dan with longtime friend and writing partner Mark Evanier.)

Monday, January 23, 2017

CONFESSIONS OF A TEARSHEET ADDICT

(Perhaps my favorite Fawcett.)

(Dean Cornwell WWII defense ad.)

(Bernie Fuchs at his best.)


Years ago when Howard Chaykin and I shared a studio, one of the treasures I discovered was his several volumes of an illustration tear sheet collection he had put together. For the uninitiated, tear sheets are those pages with something of interest that you rip out of a book or magazine.Those volumes were how  I was introduced to the work of Al Parker, Robert Fawcett, Austin Briggs, Dean Cornwell and dozens of other great illustrators. 

(Early Robert Fawcett)

(Anonymous....but absolutely great.!)

(Above and below Austin Briggs in b&w and illustrating Nero Wolfe.)

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Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get started on my own collection. In a way, this process wasn’t new for me. For years I had been ripping reference out of magazines and keeping it in a collection of file folders. (Chaykin also refined this process for me by showing me the Famous Illustrators filing system for all of this so you could actually find something when you were looking for it.)  For the next ten to twelve years this became my new hobby. 

(Dean Corwell)

(Bernard D'Andrea)

(Robert Fawcett illustrating P.G. Wodehouse.)

Every time I got a day off, I headed into Pasadena, Glendale or Burbank to the old bookstores and would pore through their stacks of old magazines looking for illustration by my favorites artists. There was a ton of these periodicals at various prices; my usual rule was one had to have at least three solid pieces in it before I was willing to fork over the $2-3 price. For a new Fawcett or a couple of other of the greats, that rule often got tossed out. 

(Above and Below Bernie Fuchs)


(Edwin Giorgi)

(Ken Riley)

 Since magazine illustration started to dry up in the 60’s, most of the material I was looking for was already dated by 30-50 years. Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s and Cosmopolitan were some of my favorite titles, but Holiday, Life and The Woman’s Home Journal were other great sources. And sometimes you found treasures in the oddest places.  Unfortunately, This Week Magazine, a newspaper supplement,  was very difficult to find, since the majority of newsprint was carted off for recycling over the years ( by well-meaning entrepreneurs like my dad for our local church).



(Three gorgeous Bob McGinnis paintings for Sat. Evening Post.)

Since then I’ve discovered that other fellow artists also had been collecting this work for years. My friend Bill Stout has a remarkable Lyendecker tear sheet collection; he claims it’s 90-95% complete, and I don’t doubt him. I’m not sure you could afford to collect like that today. The age of the material makes it very fragile, and the cost of a single issue might be your day’s budget for a search. Not too long ago I actually picked up a treasure trove of Fawcett material from another artist who had put together a remarkable pile of the work. While the majority of it was work I already had, there were many, many pieces that I had never seen, or only had xeroxs of and now I had an original magazine page. I was in heaven. 


(An Illustrator I liked a lot but could find little on over the years was Robert Jones.)

When I first started my tear sheet hunt  it was the only way to see the work if you were interested. Your chances of seeing originals were slim to none unless you were in NYC or knew one of the artists. As no one was aware of the  commercial value of the work (until the great Walt Reed came along) it would have been difficult to track down. I was fortunate enough to pick up several originals of Fawcett and other artists, before they shot completely out of my price range.

(Mitchell Hooks)

(Above a Bob Peak clothing ad and below one of his story illos.)


Now of course you have Google if you hear of a new artist, and there are several online illustration blogs that are constantly posting the work. But even then you might be limited by poor reproduction of low resolution. If you have a chance to see the original work, that is always the ultimate viewing opportunity. After that, high resolution photos of the work before it was published is your next best best. (Illustration House and other auction houses like Heritage usually keep a record of this type of anything that hits the market). Then comes the tear sheet, which even in the best case depends on the quality of the printing and how well the page has been preserved.  After that it’s finding it on line. 

(Noel Sickles)

(Coby Whitmore, above and below, was the idol of virtually every illustrator in the late 50's and early 60's.)




(Robert Fawcett doing P.G. Wodehouse again.)

So pick out your favorite illustrators and start hunting them down. Bookstores are a good place to start, but you might also want to check out grandma’s garage or attic for old magazines. Use your internet sources. A couple of great blogs to try are Today’s Inspiration and Illustration Art Archives on Facebook.  Happy hunting, and don’t forget to share your discoveries on line.